Ghosts of American Dreams Past

vintage illustration of American Dream

A Fundamental Failure- Whats wrong with this picture? Vintage illustration from 1944 advertisement


Once upon a time the promise of “skies the limit” was fundamental to the American Dream.

Now something is fundamentally wrong.

The core elements of the American dream are increasingly unaffordable for the majority.

Fundamentally Frustrated

From millennials saddled with staggering school debts and grim employment prospects to Baby Boomers unable to save for retirement, the fundamental elements of the American Dream -a living wage, retirement security, opportunity for ones children to get ahead in life are now unreachable for all but the wealthiest.

Ghosts of American Dreams Past


vintage ad illustration American Dream 1940s

Vintage ad 1944 Lee Rubber and Tire Corporation and Republic Rubber Youngstown Ohio


The possibility of obtaining the American dream today feels as quaint and outdated as this vintage ad from 1944.

With a broad brush stroke, the advertisement paints the perfect portrait of the American Dream.

Eagerly foreseeing a post war future filled with homes, harmony and upward mobility, it heralded a time when the American dream was indeed within reach of most middle class families and the achievement of the better life was fundamental to the American way.

The copy to the ad reads:

“Homes and families; practical, efficient schools; church leadership that makes devotion to religion a spiritual inspiration; elimination of class hatred and resumption of confidence and mutual interest in each other; employment for all who want it and independence for everyone who will work for it: These are fundamental for normal and continued prosperity.”

It goes on to cite the frivolous litany of post war promises… “helicopters, ultra streamlined motor cars, household conveniences akin to magic…may be highly desirable…many of them are doubtless attainable…but the pursuit of that happiness which is guaranteed to every citizen by our Constitution rests on simpler, more fundamental things.”

“Americans.” we are told proudly, “are on a march toward a happier, a greater and a permanently prosperous America.”

Now today that same American dream feels more pie-in-the sky than skies the limit.



© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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  1. Human Interest

    Reblogged this on Human Interest.


  2. Absolutely true, Sally. It’s very hard for our kids to see that they have any chance of attaining the “American Dream” these days. It’s hard enough for those of us who are older to even hold onto that dream.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are right Nancy, I think kids must view the concept of the American Dream as something retro like black and white TV


  4. Pingback: Ghosts of American Dreams Past « Don Drake

  5. Afternoon Sally – please could I use this picture, plus one from your Introduction and another from your Suburbia blog in my YouTube video?

    Forgive the unsolicited request, but I couldn’t find an email to send directly.



    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you Sally, that’s very kind of you. I will credit the images to this site.

    Thanks again,



  7. Powerful illustration! Church spire and the smoke billowing out of the factory stacks makes a different statement now than it would have when this illustration first published.

    Liked by 1 person

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